To describe Landhaus NYC’s grilled slabs of bacon on a stick as just…’bacon’ would be a sin of oversimplification. A bite of Landhaus’ unusually, even decadently, thick slabs of bacon is the culmination of a meticulously-managed, somewhat byzantine process that begins with the procurement of the region’s finest pork belly from farming cooperatives in Pennsylvania and New York and winds its way through a slow roast, in rosemary and thyme, until perfectly tender.
“That allows us to slice it extremely thick and sear it quickly on the grill without it becoming chewy,” says Landhaus co-founder and executive chef Matthew Lief. “What makes our bacon special is what we do with it after it’s smoked and cured,” he adds. This includes drizzling it with maple syrup, grilling it on a stick until a crispy exterior forms around the meltingly tender core (yes, a slice of Landhaus bacon has a core), and finishing it with a dusting of spice.
This indulgent snack has been a ubiquitous sight on the streets of Brooklyn since Landhaus’ debut last year – they’re currently serving at Smorgasburg on Saturdays, Brooklyn Flea on Sundays, the Flea’s new DUMBO location under the Manhattan Bridge on Thursdays and Fridays, and at food fests all summer long. With the borough’s insatiable appetite for bacon showing no sign of decline, is a permanent location in the works? “BIG things are in the works,” is all Lief would say.
Cutting their teeth on the streets has brought, “a lot of brutal lessons, but a ton of fun,” he says. While Lief and Landhaus co-founder Jakob Cirell opened the stand just over a year ago, he’s no newcomer to the food business – he’s worked in kitchens in Paris (L’Arpege), New York (Torrisi and Le Caprise), and has run community food and gardening projects in South Africa for several years. His parents even own a restaurant in Maine – the Islesford Dock Restaurant, on Little Cranberry Island, where he started an organic garden to supply the kitchen. Cirell was working as a meat cutter at Arcadian Pastures Farm when he and Lief decided to launch Landhaus.
It’s not just bacon-on-a-stick at Landhaus. At Flea’s ‘Food Under the Bridge’ DUMBO outpost, Lief and Cirell recently introduced a short rib sandwich with sharp cheddar cheese and hot pepper pickles. They also make a bratwurst with meat from New Jersey-raised black Berkshire pigs, and serve it with a cool, crisp red cabbage slaw; and meatballs made with Bushwick-based Heritage Foods’ impeccably-sourced American pork, served with wild arugula. Grass-fed lamb from Arcadian Pastures is featured in a lamb burger, served with harissa and whipped feta. And that bacon finds a second home in Landhaus’ legendary BLT, served on a roll with juicy tomato, lettuce, spicy pickles and a memorable mayo, made in-house with good olive oil, lemon juice, and the secret ingredient – bacon jus, a byproduct of the roasting, “Because it’s magical and makes everything delicious.”
Since meat is the matter of the business, it’s no surprise that Landhaus picks and chooses the best-in-breed from a variety of local farms. They take a simple approach from stick to sandwich, relying first on just-plain-good ingredients, then pushing them to new heights with subtle tweaks and winning combinations. While the vegetables tend to be featured fresh and unhindered (like those prime tomatoes, currently sourced from Brooklyn-based Lucky Real Tomatoes), the meats showcase a battery of classic charcuterie skills.
Lief, a thirty-something native New Yorker, resists calling Landhaus a ‘pop-up’ – he’s committed to making it his life’s work from here on out. Although he’s been cooking professionally for over a decade, he says the inspiration for Landhaus’ menu comes from experimenting at home, endless reading and research, and ‘playing around on the job’ in restaurant kitchens. He and Cirell chose to pitch their tent at Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg for its relatively low cost of entry and the uniquely potent platform it provides for exposure to the city’s bacon-loving hordes.
“It’s been a really interesting ride so far, and I feel blessed to have customers who come back every week for my food. That’s what this is all about,” says Lief. “Making money is great, but there are many more lucrative and simpler ways to do it. If you don’t get real pleasure from feeding people tasty food, you probably shouldn’t be doing this.”